(CNN) - President Barack Obama explained why, amid a series of executive branch controversies, his renewed focus on the economy matters: it's not only about financial stability, but about equal opportunity.
The message he sees as "jobs and justice" from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington 50 years ago still rings true, Obama told The New York Times in an interview published Saturday evening.
To the many Americans who today are uncertain about their future, the 1963 march taught valuable lessons on racial equality and opportunities for "working folks," he argued.
The remarks, days after the president spoke on race and the Trayvon Martin case, came while he was on a campaign-style economic tour.
"Racial tensions won't get better; they may get worse, because people will feel as if they've got to compete with some other group to get scraps from a shrinking pot" if individuals do not see a stable fiscal future, Obama said.
"If the economy is growing, everybody feels invested. Everybody feels as if we're rolling in the same direction," he continued.
Obama's midweek schedule looked familiar to watchers of his 2012 campaign and first White House term, when he favored speaking to crowds at colleges and businesses around the nation over Washington venues when advocating his economic priorities.
After visiting universities in Illinois and Missouri and speaking on the importance of education to the economy, he flew to the port in Jacksonville, Florida, where he called for investment in infrastructure. On Monday, he will speak at a Tennessee shipping center about manufacturing, jobs, and economic growth; then on Wednesday, he will travel to Capitol Hill to meet with Democrats in the House and Senate.
He cast aside the questions about such issues as the National Security Agency leaks, Internal Revenue Service political scrutiny and U.S. handling of the Benghazi, Libya, attack last September. "With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball," he said, although he was not specific about which controversies he was referring to.
The White House plans to continue the economic push into the fall.
In the same time frame, he is also expected to make perhaps the most important economic decision of his second term: naming a new individual to chair the Federal Reserve. Ben Bernanke's term as chairman is set to expire in January.
Obama told the Times he wanted someone who would go beyond tracking inflation and focus on market stability.
"The idea is to promote those things in service of the lives of ordinary Americans getting better," he said. "I want a Fed chairman that can step back and look at that objectively and say, Let's make sure that we're growing the economy."
He disputed Republicans' claims about job creation should the controversial Keystone pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast be constructed. The 2,000 temporary construction jobs he predicted - far less than the 20,000 some Republicans have said to expect - would be a "a blip relative to the need" for job creation.
He suggested that concerns over the pipeline's environmental impact could be addressed to his satisfaction because "there is no doubt that Canada at the source in those tar sands could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release."
In the interview, the president acknowledged that people are "anxious" and "frustrated" about their own financial future even while the economy overall improves.
Some do not see the potential for upward mobility, which he called "part and parcel of who we were as Americans."
It predates the fiscal crises of the last decade, he said, and despite the bloated national debt, the federal government's austerity measures have hurt the government's ability to effect change in diverse areas such as climate change and immigration.
"I want to make sure that all of us in Washington are investing as much time, as much energy, as much debate on how we grow the economy and grow the middle class as we've spent over the last two to three years arguing about how we reduce the deficits," he said, blasting what he called "a damaging framework in Washington."
And he issued a stern warning to Capitol Hill Republicans: "I'm not just going to sit back if the only message from some of these folks is no on everything, and sit around and twiddle my thumbs for the next 1,200 days."
A series of polls this month have shown Obama's approval rating is below the 50% mark. But his scores - in the mid- and upper-40s - rank well above those of Congress, which came in at 21% and 12% approval in two surveys conducted about a week ago.
borrowing money to pay people isn't creating jobs.......but, hey we expect that from democrats
He would twiddle his thumbs while our patriots are killed in Benghazi, or while the IRS goes after his opponents, or Border Guards are killed with guns we let run . . . need I go on. But he won't do it while the GOP won't bow down to his incompetence.
Oh Brother, A President blaming the other party. Go to a Leadership Class
The GOPee'rs can't even agree how to use T-paper in the restrooms!
Impeach the tyrant obama, we have checks and balances for a reason.
And he keeps traveling. You can feed several families for a year on the amount it costs for the president to travel for 1 day. You can tell he has no idea that the country is spending more money than it takes in.
Both political parties need to get together to simplify the tax code so it is fair to all. Currently the exception is the rule and the tax code is the size of an entire library. It costs a fortune to enforce the code because it is so complex. Currently, he who can afford the most expensive accountant pays the least taxes. That is totally wrong. Do not worry about the base rates. Fix the exceptions that the government keeps adding every year.
I have to tell the republicans that they are WRONG. We can not avoid raising taxes at this time. Not only do we have large deficits, we have a massive debt that is ready to crush this country. We need increased revenues to stop the hemorrhaging and start paying our bills.
The democrats are wrong as well. Borrowing and spending more will not solve the problem. It might have been great if the government had not had a systemic problem of spending more than it takes in for the last 60 years. It is time to stop this abuse. You can not keep paying for the present by leaving the tab to our children.
Phony scandals... Phony scandals... Wanton spying and abusing taxation is apparently now just a "phony scandal." Where are your priorities?
This man isn't fit to clean Martin Luther Kings shoes.
As for "twiddling his thumbs waiting for the GOP" – they presented 5 different plans in 2010 which were all TURNED DOWN by the Democrats in spite of the fact that THEY couldn't produce ONE!
And still he drones on about "It's all the GOPs fault that HE is the worst President in history!
The man is frantically trying to draw attention to the big bad GOP to DEFLECT from his many scandals.
I will take nothing this man says seriously until he stands up and refuses to raise the debt ceiling. Until he admits this overspending must end, he is lying about everything. The recovery, the jobs issues, the future. There is no recovery. Ask anyone in business and they will all answer the same way. "What Recovery?".
America needs more than smoke and mirrors. America needs action. American voters are the ONLY way to get it. Vote out the do nothing government officials in office and replace them over and over till something actually gets done. Vote outside the 2 party system. Break the dominance of the "One" party called the House and Senate.
Obama says a lot of words, but always winds up saying nothing.
We are right behind you Mr President.
The Unions are leaving Obama care. His "Phony Scandals" pivot stinks and insects many. Underemployment is rising while job creation in the private sector is approaching stagnant. His party is waging an actual war on women starring those lovable rogues: Weiner and Filner; while hundreds of young African Americans are murdered by mainly African Americans in long time Democrat strongholds of Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Houston, Los Angeles, Detroit. Meanwhile the answer to this mess is more and more money to solve problems caused in the main by the disintegration of the Black Family unit. Untold billions have been spent in Democrat controlled urban centers to attempt to solve this problem and all we hear is it must be caused by someone and something else. Good grief! Enough!
He only campaigns... The only thing he knows how to do.
Like all other politicians, Obama very carefully says.....NOTHING.
Good on him. Five years into his presidency with unemployment over 7.5% (over 12% if we had the same workforce participation rate we had when he came into office) and he decides to focus on the economy. I'm sure someone will reply with some comment about the stock market climbing, but tell that to the people who've been out of work for two years. Or to those who had to take part time work, or jobs for which they are overqualified just to make ends meet. I'm really glad his economic push is centered on "social justice" as well. I'm sure that's what's killing our economy...the lack of social justice.
Yup, more affirmative action, more government employees, less private sector jobs. Keep driving the country into the ground with unparalleled poverty and debt.
He won't wait on the GOP? Five years into office and he NOW says he can't wait on the economy?
I guess the "blame Bush" line doesn't carry water anymore, so now he has to blame the GOP.
Why didn't he care about the economy in the first two years when he was unapposed in Congress? Why blame the Congress that was elected in 2010 to STOP his agenda (particularly Obamacare)?
Why is it the last thing he did to spur the economy was to delay his own job killing bill (Obamacare's mandate on buisnesses)?
WE KNOW that Obama will not twiddle his thumbs – it would mess up his golf swing.
Good luck the rupuke party will block anything that might help the country just to hurt Obama
I won't wait for the GOP....I will continue my fight against the economy and the constitution as well.
I hope that people are listening.
Congress can't seem to do anything but vote to repeal the ACA for the 40th time.
We need to vote in a new congress that will actually cooperate with this President to help the rest of the country.
Won't wait for the GOP? Guess what, they say they've been waiting for you! Losers, the whole bunch of you.
Obama has tanked the economy on his own... no need to blame the GOP for "waiting"... he's ruined it for all of us.
Ok, so why did you wait for your first 2 years.... Why are you blaming the other party? Your job is to unite this country but despite that fact you have done everything to divide it the past year.
I won't wait for the GOP....I will continue my fight against the economy and the constitution as well. Average Americans are not who he wants to protect.
If he would just be a leader and not a talker. He just doesn't have the capability to be a leader.
Typical wealth redistribution speech...other than that, blame the other guy...blah...blah...blah